Fifty years of the Taylor Titch
PUBLISHED: 11:27 16 November 2017 | UPDATED: 11:31 16 November 2017
In the year that Pilot magazine appeared John Taylor made the first flight of his new design, the Titch. His son, Terry tells the story of the aircraft
“How’d she go Mr Taylor?”
“Very well indeed, thank you.”
“Any problems with handling?”
“No, none at all. Pleasantly surprised. Very light of course, very responsive.”
This was the conversation, after the prop stopped turning, between my dad, John Taylor and ITN News reporter John Shearer. This item appeared on the evening news on 22 January 1967 after the Titch had just flown for the second time, this time for the benefit of the cameras. Then the real work of testing it began in earnest.
The Titch has its origins, not surprisingly, in the Taylor Monoplane, but the two are very different aircraft. The Mono, a lower-powered machine, appeared for the first time in 1959 as a result of there not being anything my dad liked the look of in that early post-war era that he could build himself. His interest had been ignited by his mother who had built Salamanders at the Sopwith factory during the first world war.
Initially he built models, which he developed further by producing model aero engines as a business until a friend alerted him to the fact that flying lessons he’d thought too expensive to contemplate were available at half the normal rate if you belonged to London Transport. A quick check revealed this to be true and a hasty application saw him signing up as a bus driver for two years, thus enabling access to the flying club at Fairoaks and his PPL.
Now the whole prospect of building an aeroplane looked far more sensible, but the designs available in the early ‘50s did not appeal to him. Advice was sought from two books on design by C H Latimer-Needham, a professional designer for Luton Aircraft amongst others, who somehow also found time to write about how it could be done.
With no formal training in aerodynamics or stressing, my dad found it hard going to begin with but, to his delight, Mr Needham was willing to take the time to see him and explain the areas he was struggling with. Initially he designed a tandem two-seater, but it was found to be impossible to obtain a suitable engine. The whole thing was shelved and a single-seater designed in its place.
The Mono started in earnest in 1957, by which time my dad had switched jobs to Ford’s Tooling Design Office, which had certain advantages. Apart from getting him familiar with drawing office procedures, the main benefit was getting the more difficult Mono metal parts onto Ford’s drawing sheets−sending them to the toolroom to be made as ‘experimental fittings’.
These would duly be returned to the designer in a box for approval; how could he possibly not approve his own fittings? With the continual help of Doug Bianchi of Personal Plane Services at White Waltham the Mono was completed and flown in July 1959 by O V ‘Titch’ Holmes.
The Mono soon garnered interest in America, after it appeared in a couple of magazines. People wrote to dad, ‘Saw your Monoplane, how much are the plans?’ Plans? What plans! He had never contemplated that anybody would like to build a copy and had only produced drawings for his own use. At first these requests were acknowledged with the explanation that none existed. Back came the reply, ‘The plans or else!’
Almost another year passed before the full set was ready to be sent out to other builders and the interest quickly gained pace−and for some reason US builders favoured welded tubular fuselages with their designs, not all-wood as with the Mono. First in the air was Hugh Beckam of Kansas, weighing in at 404 lb empty−even lighter than the prototype. (‘See? It can be done!’) The next question was, ‘How big an engine can I stick in this thing? 65hp OK?’ “Not really,” was the obvious reply. This was totally ignored, of course, and photos of Monos started arriving with builders delightedly reporting ‘how good it was with this much power’.
Knowing that this was not what the Mono had been intended for, dad set about designing another aeroplane that was geared for the 100hp class from the outset. At the same time he sold his Mono so we could move to a new house in Leigh-on-Sea, and he changed jobs again to become a metalwork teacher at a local school, with very useful equipment in its workshop, of course.
The Tiger Club, to which he belonged, had purchased the Cosmic Wind, a remarkable all-metal racer designed and built by Lockheed. When it arrived at Redhill, to say it caused a stir is a considerable understatement. Its shape, quality of construction, and performance were staggering for 1962 and my dad was all over it for ages in the hangar, particularly liking its tapered wing and tail. The Titch wasn’t a wooden copy but it was definitely influenced to some extent and the design progressed steadily.
Whist on a visit to the club the boss, Norman Jones asked my dad how his design ‘for the competition’ was coming on? Competition? Apparently the club had launched one, inviting midget racer designs to be submitted. Dad had not received his invitation and Norman said he would go and get one, commenting, “You should be able to cook something up!”
A quick look at the rules put the Titch out of contention due to its weight and general air of being a tourer, not a flat-out racer, so he just plodded on at his own pace. In came an interesting letter: ‘Looking forward to your design, John, and you will be delighted to learn that the deadline has been put back one month’. He felt a gentle bit of arm-twisting and had another look. Remove the flaps, get rid of the ply skinning on the fuselage, put lightening holes into everything possible, a tiny bubble canopy, and minimum instruments. This is how it was entered and to his surprise he came second out of forty designs, the Luton Design Group Beta, later manufactured as the Rollason Beta, being the winner.
Nobody has ever reproduced the ‘racing’ version and he started construction of the more usual version in January 1965. With the added bonus of being able to make all his own fittings at school, the building progressed at quite a good rate, especially with thirteen weeks holiday, a thirty-hour week when at school, rising to double this during school holidays.
His only problem was having to build it in the garage which needed considerable heating to get it up to gluing temperature in the winter, whereas the Mono being built in the lounge had been a far better option. Anybody contemplating building an aeroplane should seriously look at building it in their lounge, it makes a lot more sense than that chilly garage.
Proof-loading of each component to 4g under the scrutiny of the ARB, now CAA, revealed no problems, with no modifications required, and by the following July the Titch was complete apart from some very minor finishing details.
Accommodation was sought at the nearby Southend Airport. Someone must surely have space in their hangar, after all if it’s in the way just pick the tail up and shift it! Yes, a crop-spraying company would allow it to go in their hangar but with a slight twist−it had to arrive already assembled; No major work was to be undertaken there as they figured a dismantled aeroplane would take up a lot more room.
Fair enough, but how to get it to the airport? Easy. Put it together in the garden at home, carry it out in one piece and wheel it down the various roads to get it there. Prior to all this had been the unprecedented insurance cover required: £2,000,000. That’s right, two million in 1966! Fortunately the Mono’s test pilot, Titch Holmes worked for Lloyds and arranged that via thirty-seven companies all chipping in. As you’ve probably guessed, this is where the name for the Titch came from, as a thank you for his work on the Mono. And so the Titch made a four-mile walk to the airport, backwards.
Another connection to Cosmic Wind was that its Continental C-85 engine was the one my dad bought from Rollasons, after the Cosmic Wind crashed at Halfpenny Green during a tight turn. Not all was well. Very low oil pressure and a mismatched carburettor during repairs led to hours of ground runs changing various jets to get it right, but it had a fantastic plus side for me.
After school most days I found myself sitting in the cockpit, aged twelve, stick hard back, fuel on, throttle set, contact! What a dream position for any boy to be in as my dad swung the prop and started it, correcting the mismatched carb over several weeks. That winter was freezing cold but I wouldn’t have changed it for anything. What really stands out in my mind are the night run-ups, so that he could see the exhaust flame colour at all throttle settings and be sure of it being spot on. This expertise came from his wartime job at an engine factory, J A Prestwich, who, amongst other things, made the J-99 engine in his Mono.
With Christmas over, the first flight took place on 4 January 1967. Just twenty minutes or so with dad at the controls; the same morning as another adventurous person, Donald Campbell made his fastest-ever run in Bluebird K7. Two weeks later the Titch performed for the cameras, after which the low oil pressure problem was rectified and testing progressed nicely. Most evenings we would be at the airport by twenty past four and he would be taxying out before five o’clock for a thirty-minute flight or so.
Sadly this was to change dramatically in May. Dad was seen practising stalls, which led to a spin, then a dive into a field north of the airport, from which he did not survive. Incredibly, viewed by today’s standards, I was taken to the crash site the very next morning to answer questions from two accident inspectors while it was still fresh in my mind. How times have changed. But there are some important lessons to be learned here, at the risk of appearing slightly critical of my dad’s own pathway.
Firstly, his logbook reveals very little flying during the construction period; secondly, why didn’t he get it tested by someone else, as with the Mono? Thirdly, and this is the most difficult one, stalling was being carried out at 1,500ft−half the recommended height for tests of this nature. Why, we shall never know, but hopefully this may be of some help to others.
The Titch was assessed at Farnborough and thankfully cleared of any fault. One of the next available examples was flight-tested by them, put through aerobatics, taken to 6g, found to have good spin recovery in either direction, and declared perfectly safe for this type of aeroplane.
After about six months my mum felt able to proceed with selling the plans. She’d done the typing, packaging up the plans and posting them for ages anyway, and her keeping it going paved the way for others to be built. To date about fifty have been completed, with considerable popularity in the USA, the very country that requested it in the first place.
Jim Miller’s N14J has been a consistent build quality winner and has excellent performance with its C-85, cruising at 150mph, and a top speed of 195mph. A recent New Zealand example built by John Best has the modern Jabiru engine fitted giving a cruise speed of 140mph. Not surprisingly this also has won ‘Best wood and fabric’.
Both of these Titches have three common areas that really make them stand out: neat cowlings and canopy plus a paint scheme that complements the overall shape nicely. For some inexplicable reason, present day Titches seem to be carrying a passenger as well! The original was 745 lb, full of fuel and ready to go: the later examples are 900 lb. What is happening? It has been stated many times over: stick to the sizes stated on the plans as ‘adding a bit here and here’ can really spoil your day.
The original idea was for the Mono to be built for the price of a family car, and the Titch slightly more, solely due to the engine difference. The true figure is now less than the price of a car, and if some of the kits seem expensive, plans-built aeroplanes are still a good way to go, with advice and backup never being better.
One of the main exponents of the Titch in the UK is Trevor Jarvis who flies and competes regularly in his example in his Catch 22 race team — a total enthusiast! He has really put the Titch back on the map, for which we are very grateful.
(Plans for the Titch are still available from www.taylortitch.co.uk − Ed.)